HONG KONG - As the occupation of Hong Kong by Umbrella Movement protesters nears the end of its first month, student leaders unexpectedly canceled an electronic poll on the future of the pro-democracy movement Sunday, citing differences in objective and a lack of preparation.
The move comes as pro-Beijing factions ramp up their opposition to the occupation.
The Federation of Students, Scholarism and Occupy Central issued a joint statement with pan-democracy legislators and civic groups Sunday, explaining why the vote was canceled.
It was not immediately clear if a vote will be rescheduled.
“We admit we did not have enough discussion with the people before deciding to go ahead with the vote. We apologize to the people,” read a prepared statement from the three organizing groups.
Called to remain on streets
Occupy Central convener Benny Tai joined other protest leaders in bowing to the crowds by way of further apology. He called for the public to remain on the streets.
“This does not mean the end of the movement," said Tai. "Actually it will provide a good opportunity to come together to discuss what might be the next step.”
The electronic referendum, due to be held Sunday and Monday, was expected to propose two motions on the direction of the Umbrella Movement. In particular, its leaders were seeking a clear mandate to call for constitutional reform in time for the election of the next Hong Kong chief executive in 2017.
Protesters indicated a vote among themselves was unnecessary.
Federation of Students head Alex Chow told VOA their presence in the occupation zones signaled a clear rejection of Beijing's order that candidates for the 2017 election be pre-approved by a pro-Beijing nominating committee.
"Without removing or agreeing to amend that structure, then there is no room for dialogue to continue,” said Chow.
Other democracy activists expressed fear voters would be threatened by so-called Blue Ribbons - pro-Beijing factions that have exercised often violent opposition to the Umbrella Movement.
This activist, who gave his name only as Eric, said he would continue to occupy Central district irrespective of concerns for his own safety.
“The awakening effect of this movement, although it has been only 28 days, is much more prominent than [anything] in the last 30 years," he said. "You can see it from protesters' faces and by what they say. I can definitely say that [we] are not going away. Definitely.”
A court injunction, issued Thursday and effective until Monday, prevents police removing barricades constructed by the pro-democracy demonstrators. But that ban does not extend to the Blue Ribbons.
Anti-Umbrella Movement protesters
At one rally attended by several hundred anti-Umbrella Movement protesters Saturday, four journalists were assaulted and accused of treason.
As police investigate the incident, and public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong threatens legal action against the assailants, legislative council president Tsang Yok-sing reiterated government assertions that press freedom will be upheld in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
“Any violence should be condemned, whether the victims are members of the media or anyone else," said Tsang.
Rather than polling among themselves, student leaders and pro-democracy legislators are now discussing a mass resignation from the city legislature, to spark a Hong Kong-wide election that acts as a de facto public referendum on the constitutional reform issue.